Poetry Review: The Language of Little Girls, by Kate Falvey

A Review by Dante Di Stefano

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Poetry: The Language of Little Girls, by Kate Falvey

Review by Dante Di Stefano

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The Language of Little Girls

Kate Falvey

David Robert Books, 2016 ($19.00)

Kate Falvey has published two poetry chapbooks, What the Sea Washes Up (Dancing Girl Press) and Morning Constitutional in Sunhat and Bolero (Green Fuse Poetic Arts). She is associate professor of English at New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York, where she teaches creative writing and literature. City Tech/CUNY supports the annual literary journal, 2 Bridges Review, for which she is editor-in-chief.  She is also an associate editor for the N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center’s the Bellevue Literary Review. She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from N.Y.U.

The Stealthy Dream of a Constant Hand

Kate Falvey’s new collection of poetry, The Language of Little Girls, reads as a compendium of unforgettable female voices; the book abounds with sketches of compelling, thoughtful, unruly, questioning, and complex women and girls. Falvey introduces her readers to grammar school angels contemplating the divine, schoolmarms, nuns, catholic schoolgirls, piano teachers, mothers, daughters, ghosts, literary critics, cosmopolitans, Little Red Riding Hood, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, an indomitable young woman named Cora, and tomboys who decorate the blushing rubber of their doll babies with blood from their own scraped knees and shins. This diverse cast of characters shares an irrepressible vitality and an unquenchable curiosity that Falvey expertly marshals into the elemental language of her poetry. Precise detail muscles Falvey’s lines, pierced through, as they are, with egret and cygnet, birch and alder, iris and calendula, brush and bracken, bufflehead and common goldeneye. Falvey’s poems whisper avowal everywhere in their own lovingly windswept vocabularies.

Not only does The Language of Little Girls whisper avowal in all directions, but it also affirms the creative and imaginative power of the feminine. The girls and women in these poems are makers: poets, musicians, craftswomen, artists in the kaleidoscopic overlay of urban and pastoral, of heaven and of earth, of the ordinary and of the sublime. These girls and women “can see into the very insides of / angels” and “know God’s sigh is the / voice of all the world.” However, Falvey’s poems also articulate more immediate concerns; the poem, “Incidental,” for example, begins:

The world creases sometimes
less like the brittle page of an old paperback
(one with a moon on the cover — and the soft
eyes of a girl peeking over a mess of creepers riddling
through a neat fringe of boxwood)
and more like a bed sheet busy with violets and snow drops
slept on fitfully and dragged into a stealthy dream of
a constant hand, smoothing, rumpling, smoothing.

In these lines, the creasing of the world—an existential problem—relates more to the domestic sphere than to the literary. However, the literary overlaps with the domestic. The crease in an old paperback implies an engagement with a text, an old intimacy, a giving over of the self to the dream of pulp and ink. Similarly, the folds in a bedsheet, upon which are written a chronicle of bodily restlessness and insomnia, might be coopted “into a stealthy dream of a constant hand,” endlessly smoothing and rumpling their surface, like the work of a poet who has entered the infinite dream of restorative utterance. The Language of Little Girls pleasantly uncovers the world’s creases, so that they might be smoothed, rumpled, and smoothed again, by Kate Falvey’s constant hand.

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Dante Di Stefano

Author: Dante Di Stefano

Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Brilliant Corners,The Los Angeles Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is the winner of the 2015 Red Hen Press Poetry Award, the Crab Orchard Review's 2016 Special Issue Feature Award in Poetry, and the 2016 Manchester Poetry Prize.